Communion or correctness? The underlying question.

Is God’s goal for humanity communion or correctness? The way you answer that question will determine your understanding of atonement, orthodoxy, holiness, Biblical interpretation, and just about every other major issue within Christian thought. Does Jesus’ cross serves the purpose of imputing perfect correctness to imperfect people or creating peace and reconciliation between otherwise irreconcilable people? That is the distinction. For the purpose of this piece, I want to define correctness very specifically as a way of thinking about behavior and opinions in which there is one right answer and the goal is absolute uniformity. Righteousness is different from correctness; its absolute would be perfect love for God and neighbor which would not necessarily result in identical decisions being made in the same circumstances but a perfect disposition for making these decisions. I believe that a certain threshold of correctness is important for the sake of establishing communion between God’s people, but if correctness means chasing after an elusive goal of absolute ideological conformity, then it is a source of schism in the body of Christ and as such a heretical pursuit.

Let me state the widespread idea that I’m against whether or not this is an accurate representation of any one particular theologian’s view or simply the millions of “straw men” who are actually real people that really do believe something like this. I’m against the idea that God sent Jesus to die on the cross primarily to fulfill His infinite standards for perfection on behalf of creatures He hates for their imperfection, and only incidentally to restore communion with some of His creatures. I’m not a universalist, but I do believe God wants us all and grieves (in some way appropriate to His mysterious and sovereign nature) about losing anyone including Satan. God is an unreasonably merciful Father who loses His dignity chasing around His prodigals; He also zealously loves those who belong to them and rages against anything that hurts them or damages the order in which they are safe. But I don’t think He has an abstract standard of perfect correctness that supersedes His goal of communion with humanity.

I realize I haven’t read everything that I need to read to give an exhaustive account of all the theological tributaries that have flowed into the popular evangelical misconceptions of God that predominate our discourse today. But based on what I have read, I’m going to blame the “doctrine of correctness” on a legitimate but infamously misinterpreted analogy made by Anselm that has been hackneyed and caricatured to death through a millennium of passing it down. In his opus Cur Deus Homo, Anselm set out to explain why Jesus needed to be both man and God. In Anselm’s medieval feudal context, the king’s honor was the glue that held the whole feudal society together. If people could get away with dishonoring the king, then all of the subordinate relationships would fall like a house of cards and the society would degenerate into chaos. Anselm felt this was analogous to humanity’s relationship with God, with which I agree. In a society where everyone honors the Father who sees every creature as His beloved child, people will take care of each other and enjoy peace as a result of their right relationship with God. When we lack honor for God, we treat each other with contempt as a result. The corollary is also true: when we denigrate other people (like poor people we don’t know by coming up with myths that blame them for their poverty to comfort us in our complacency), then we are dishonoring God.

So the analogy between a king in feudal society and God is appropriate, but let me share how things get dicey. Anselm says that because God is infinite, the offense against him for even the most minor of sins is infinite which means that only the punitive death of an infinite being (divine) representing the guilty party (human) could satisfy the dishonor shown to God. Hence Jesus had to be both God and man. All of this talk of infinite offense on the part of God is completely extra-Biblical as far as I know. The curious thing is the justification Anselm gives for this cosmic need of infinite sacrifice. He uses the verb convenit (“It is fitting”) to explain why Jesus’ sacrifice was necessary. He doesn’t say whether God needs to be satisfied by His Son’s blood for His dishonor or we need God the Son to prove to us that God the Father’s honor has been restored so that we can “approach the throne of grace with confidence” (Hebrews 4:16). To Anselm, it is simply “fitting.” Over the last 900 years of the theological game of telephone from Anselm to John Calvin to the Puritans to the Romans Roaders of today, God has become the one who needs Jesus’ cross; I say in contrast that we are the ones who need the cross since our utterly self-sufficient God needs nothing and can dishonor Himself kenotically with ridiculous mercy all that He wants to.

Here are the consequences of this difference. When you say that God’s honor is infinitely offended by the most minor of sins and that becomes the cosmic problem of your universe, it impacts how you define everything else theologically. God’s holiness comes to mean His pickiness about our imperfection rather than God’s willingness to “cause his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and send rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). God’s righteousness becomes God’s demand for perfect correctness that is canceled out by the cross, rather than God’s willingness to bear our sins through His Son on the cross (Romans 3:25) and pay for our mistakes unilaterally in order to “reconcile the world to himself in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:19). God’s justice becomes the damnation that we deserve and get rescued from rather than the moment for which those who are oppressed and cheated and slandered have longed (Revelation 6:10) all of their lives: when “everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13). I’ll never forget a breakfast I had with a Southern Baptist pastor where I was talking about why Christians should fight for justice and he said, “Justice? I don’t want justice; you know where we would all go if God were just!” This helped me understand why the Romans Road is more attractive to the privileged than the oppressed. When you haven’t ever been treated unjustly, there’s no reason to want justice.

So the result of the theological game of telephone from Anselm through many intermediaries to today’s Romans Roaders is that God is caricatured as an infinitely scrutinizing and merciless Critic (rather than an infinitely understanding Father who will hold us accountable for everything we do but who judges so perfectly that He sees every last mitigating circumstance and sliver of good intentions in every sin that He judges). The Romans Roaders make justice into something that ironically lacks the infinite nuance that perfect judgment requires. Judgment (κρίνει) instead of being synonymous with discernment (διακρίνει) becomes a clumsy binary opposite of the mercy that cancels it out since God is only allowed two options (by the people who “defend” His freedom). Thus it becomes impossible to imagine that the greatest justice can be accomplished in a context of mercy, a “community called atonement,” to use the title of Scot McKnight’s excellent book. This view of justice results in a nihilistic contempt for ethics since the difference between murder and infinite perfection is not much greater than the difference between saying ” !@#$%^&*!” and infinite perfection, so if you’re going to cuss somebody out, you might as well kill them too, because it doesn’t make any difference to God since His criterion is your acceptable acceptance of Jesus’ blood.

If Jesus’ blood is a response to God’s demand for infinite blood rather than our need for an assurance of peace with God, that indicates that what God most wants is perfect correctness whether it’s through our perfect adherence to His infinitely demanding rules (which is impossible) or through our acceptance of Christ in the correct way (which I suppose would be Romans 10:9-10), not for the sake of our liberation from slavery to sin (Romans 6:6), but simply because He demands correctness (which seems to establish His “sovereignty” better than if He were concerned with our benefit). And by the way, it’s not good enough for us to accept Christ if we have the “wrong Jesus” in our heads when we do it because then we haven’t accepted Christ correctly. It’s hard to know which Jesus is the correct Jesus, but if the Jesus we believe in is attractive and reassuring to us, then we’ve probably invented Him (following the modernist/Kantian logic of defining “objectivity” as the proven lack of personal benefit). So the safest bet is to pick a mean, distasteful Jesus from Revelation whose mouth-sword isn’t the truth of His words but something that generates enough blood and gore to make Armaggedon a sufficiently R-rated experience, rather than the gentle hippie in Matthew who talked about turning the other cheek and the blessedness of being meek.

If God’s ultimate goal is infinite correctness, then orthodoxy does not refer to a range of possible interpretations of scripture. There can only be one correct way of reading each verse in the Bible, which are each perfectly self-evident since God could not demand correctness if He did not give us a word that is “very near to us” (Deuteronomy 30:14) and completely accessible to anybody with a sixth grade-level of education since 12 is the “age of accountability” (another completely extra-Biblical concept). In this view of orthodoxy, heretics are people who think there isn’t only one self-evident interpretation of scripture and try to shroud their disbelief by using that infinitely dangerous and dishonest word “mystery.” The task of the theologian under this orthodoxy is to find the one correct way of interpreting the Bible and write an exhaustive systematic theology that dispels all the so-called “mystery” once and for all so that every Christian will be able to read their Bibles correctly and thus ensure that they have indeed accepted Christ into their hearts correctly so that God will accept their acceptable acceptance (which somehow isn’t justification by works even though people have to work very hard to convince themselves that they have the fruits of regeneration).

But what if salvation is better described not as God’s imputed correctness which satisfies His demand for infinite perfection, but instead our deliverance from the infinite fright that causes us to make an awesome God awful and mask our terror with imprisoning Pharisaic self-justification? What if justification by faith refers to our capacity to trust that something as seemingly weak and undignified as mercy could be what the King of the universe uses to deliver us from the distancing power play of self-justifying sacrifice so that we can be absorbed into the radical intimacy of a body that was crucified in order to conform us to the kenotic mercy of our savior that is itself the righteousness of God (Romans 3:25 & 2 Corinthians 5:16-21) and the only “correctness” that can create communion? What if the pursuit of a correctness that has been defined as something that is diametrically opposed to mercy causes us to be “children of hell” (Matthew 23:15), like the Pharisees that Jesus condemned, who “shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces” which “they themselves will not enter” (v. 13)? Consider the following three passages that describe election and justification by faith, two concepts that are central to evangelical theology. What is the common telos that they share?

This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus…Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. [Romans 3:22-24, 27]

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. [Ephesians 2:8-9]

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. [1 Corinthians 1:27-29]

When people are trying to be perfectly correct in terms of unimpeachable opinion and conduct rather than pursuing the perfect “righteousness of the kingdom of God” that is Jesus’ heart, they boast; they puff up with spiritual pride (1 Corinthians 8:1), and any kind of authentic community between them and other people becomes impossible, because they will argue relentlessly over any disagreement until the other person is cowed into submission or leaves. It is true that we need Christ’s blood to justify us before God, but it’s not because God demands perfectly correct opinions and conduct, which would leave us trapped in our condition since Christ’s imputed correctness wouldn’t save us from the need to accept Him as Lord and savior correctly. The reason we need Christ’s blood to justify us before God is so that we can be liberated us from the hell-bound pursuit of the wrong kind of correctness and forced into a humility that makes the righteousness of mercy and authentic community possible, a recognition of our utter dependence on God’s sovereign mercy that renders unnecessary Paul’s rhetorical question to the Corinthians: “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (1 Corinthians 4:7).

Of course in America, the land of self-reliance, the ethos in the air makes us want to earn our salvation rather than receive it as a gift. So we grasp for a form of works-righteousness that we can disguise as justifying “faith”: doctrinal correctness — believing the right things about the right Jesus so that we can be assured that our acceptance of Christ is acceptable to God. As long as perfect doctrinal correctness is the all-consuming goal of Christian discipleship, communion between Christians will remain impossible except between those who believe that they are both perfectly correct since they believe exactly the same things and that they are not condoning incorrectness. Over time, the church splits and schisms further and further as the demands for perfect correctness increase in their hyperbolic approach to infinity and fewer deviations from a rigid uniformity are acceptable. The pursuit of perfect correctness will settle ultimately for nothing less than absolute ideological conformity.

It’s true that the “God demands correctness” story draws a much greater following among the American middle-class than the “God desires communion” story, but do the members of these churches really experience the authentic community that Jesus died to make possible? Perhaps they do in hushed corners, in certain small groups that are more open to “questions” than others. Maybe each of these megachurches has a group of cynics who go to a bar together and bemoan the teachings of the pastor they will never have the courage to leave since they think their God demands infinite correctness and they’re willing to rebel only so much. It grieves me so much that the American ethos which loves the pride of sacrifice more than the humility of mercy causes people to desire a God who is “a hard man who reaps where he does not sow” (Matthew 25:24) like the third servant in the parable of the talents who was so afraid of a God he couldn’t believe to be a generous and loving Father that he buried all of his questions and dreams in the ground.

But I think there’s a better story. The reason God “made him who had no sin to be sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21) was so that we could display His perfect righteousness through our reconciliation and communion to God and each other. Jesus’ final prayer to His Father in John 17 captures the purpose of His work on the cross: “that they may be one as we are one” (v. 22). It is because of Jesus’ cross that we come to be branches brought together in communion on the same vine (John 15:5), grafted onto the tree (Romans 11:17) of the people who owe their entire existence to God’s mercy (Deuteronomy 32:21). Jesus’ “purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of [Jews and Gentiles], thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility” (Ephesians 2:15-16). Notice how Paul says that the cross puts to death our hostility. We are the ones who need the blood of Christ to rescue us from our hatred of God and each other. Our pursuit of correctness is a major catalyst for the spiritual pride and competitiveness that creates this hatred.

The orthodoxy that we seek in Christian teaching is for the sake of the merciful righteousness that makes communion, not the correctness that is opposed to mercy. The reason Paul tells Timothy to oppose false teachers is not merely because they are incorrect, but because they “promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work” (1 Timothy 1:4). All of Paul’s polemics in Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Romans, and Colossians targeted those who were creating scandal and division in the church, often by seeking to supersede the gospel of God’s mercy with a form of more sacrificially taxing correctness(which has “an appearance of wisdom, with its self-imposed worship, its false humility and its harsh treatment of the body,” Colossians 2:23). The heresies of the ancient church were heresies because they created schism by either emphasizing one aspect of the complex amalgam of Christian theology to the exclusion of all others (Marcionism, Arianism, Nestorianism) or creating an elitism of correctness that would destroy Christian unity (Gnosticism, Pelagianism). Yes, they were incorrect, but the boundaries of orthodoxy are not set by a completely impossible uniform correctness but rather the range of Biblical interpretation within which a unified body of Christ can be maintained (and moreover ortho-doxy is not really “right-opinion” anyway but “right-worship” so it is most truly the set of beliefs that emerge from the regular practice of eucharistic community which are confirmed by the God-breathed truth we are given to narrate our encounter with the sacred mysteries).

This is not to say that orthodoxy is reducible to majority rule, which is how false orthodoxies like the Romans Road get created. The vast majority of Christians will never be able to understand the boundaries of belief that allow for the body of Christ to remain unified; thus they will cling to a literal, self-evident interpretation of the Bible. This is not to denigrate the simple-minded, for “the statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple” (Psalm 19:7). God can take us as deep into His infinity as we are able to dive; the problem is when we understand His infinity to be a conceptually shallow parsimonious perfectionism instead of being a mystery of wonder and beauty whose light can never be owned by our darkness (John 1:5). The salvation we receive is just as rich in the ankle-deep waters of the beach as at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. The deep-divers should not be contemptuous of the ankle-waders, but the ankle-waders likewise should not be allowed to tyrannize the deep-divers as they have done in our mostly beneficial democratized culture which confuses populism for conservatism.

We all need the mercy that God has established through the blood of Jesus Christ on the cross. The more that we allow this mercy to reign over us, the more deeply we will be able to enter into communion with God and each other. The Hebrew word for mercy, hesed, does not mean “pardon” so much as it signifies the kind of love you have in a tight-knit family. When God says in Hosea 6:6, “I desire mercy not sacrifice,” He is saying He will do whatever it takes for us to accept Him as our loving Father (communion) instead of keeping Him at a distance with our grandiose gestures of piety (correctness). I have been turning to Hebrews more and more for the most beautiful explanations of why Jesus died for us: “In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters” (Hebrews 2:10-11). The pioneer of our salvation suffered to make us one family since God desires most deeply for us to be in perfect communion just as the Father, Son, and Spirit are.

37 thoughts on “Communion or correctness? The underlying question.

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  4. I’m returning to your “communion vs. correctness” blog to share with you… I recently came across Loren Seibold’s article in the November 2012 “Ministry Magazine” ( ) entitled “The Tyranny of the Weaker Brother.” It’s an interesting take on Paul’s teaching about not causing someone of weaker faith to stumble. He uses Romans 14:14, “As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food {Or that nothing} is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then FOR HIM it is unclean.” (NIV, my emphasis) Seibold makes the connection that for Paul, an individual’s higher level of rigid legalism/works equaled a weaker faith in God’s grace. Noting Paul’s surrounding culture, Seibold makes the case that new Gentile converts and the legalistic Jewish Christians could mistake the stronger faith of grace-liberated Christians for polytheism. And remembering that Paul encouraged growth in knowledge of grace and faith; Seibold’s point is that, while we shouldn’t cause the person of weaker faith to stumble, neither should we leave the person of weaker faith/rigid legalism to remain in weakness NOR allow that rigid legalism to dictate the behavior of the church.

    Best wishes and prayers to you, that in the busyness of the season, you can find time in in the quiet darkness to have a sit-down with Him.

  5. Morgan, I agree with your position that the goal is Communion. But as James 2:14-17 says, “Faith without works is dead.” Why would this be so? Because God’s call for Communion with him and humankind requires effort on everyone’s part. “Communion” isn’t merely stepping into and sitting in an empty place in the circle of us all; it requires a commitment to commune with everyone. Those “impossible demands for correctness” you would ignore are the clues God has given us for humanly attempting to achieve our Communion with God and humanity in a perfect way. For obvious examples: Can you achieve Communion with your brother while stealing from him? Of course not! Can you achieve Communion with your sister while rejecting her feminity which is a gift from God for multiplying humankind? Can she share true Communion with you while rejecting your masculinity to procreate? No! Can you show love for your neighbor while performing adultery with his wife or her husband? Of course not. You can’t even try — but you can try to get along (share Communion) with him or her by attempting to respect their sacred worth imputed by God, by following God’s clues as best you can. And “as best you can” means putting forth a whole lot more effort than many of us desire to expend in the face of easily-attainable personal pleasure. And personal pleasure can be just that — personal and selfish, which is the opposite of Communal.

    Communion means we should be together, sharing the common goal and good of God with humankind, with forgiveness for human fallibility in respect for our intention to follow the plan of God to achieve it in the clue-filled account called the Bible. And it is outlined in the records of the prophets, and of both the “hippie Jesus” and the “sword-mouth Jesus,” — the many facets of God.

    • Hmm… “Those impossible demands for correctness you would ignore.” How does that follow from saying that correctness is merely the means to the end of communion? Not ignore at all. All I’m saying is that perfection is not an abstract goal that has nothing to do with pragmatic human interests; perfection is shalom, literally. It’s righteousness rather than rightness.

      • Hi again Morgan ~ I see now I’m coming in late to the conversation — and actually made a knee-jerk comment. Sorry for the bother and you can delete it as not germane to your goal if you wish. I passed the blog link along to a longtime UM pastor/friend and he responded that it made his head hurt! That let me know I hadn’t read it deeply enough. Turns out, our theology is very close. That shouldn’t be too surprising, given that we seem to have a few things in common. I’m also a UM Pastor, of 2 churches in Mis’sippi and have been serving 22 years. My wife just finished her 5-year Course of Study school and has been a part-time pastor since 2005. As her UM-pastor brother says, “Now she’s got someone to preach to besides us!”

        • Knee jerk comments are fine. I do that all the time. Thanks for your interaction. My dad is from Jackson. His mother went to Galloway UMC forever.

  6. Thank you for this piece. There is a lot here to feed the soul. One expression you might find useful is that the correctness doctrine is actually a form of ideology, in which God is reduced to idea and a human rendering of the idea becomes an idolatrous substitute for relationship with the Living God. Once God is so reduced, correctness is seemingly the mandatory view of our desired connection with God–one safely free of the messy issues of authentic relationship and communion.

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  8. This post is so good. I’ve been lurking on your blog for a couple/few months and am really enjoying the journey. Your post about Dinesh D’Souza had me coming back to process on this post some more. Perfect example of the vacuousness of a life built on correctness rather than communion, in my opinion.
    Unfortunately, I can relate too well to this correctness obsession. Mine has looked vastly different than D’Souza’s but I have had my own idolatry exposed (by the Lord to myself) and it isn’t pretty. So very, very empty and dry my cistern was. I find myself in the freaking amazing yet awkward place of actually communing regularly with God for the first time in 11 years of following Jesus and He is having to chase down and expose all kinds of false images of Himself within me. It is beautiful and painful and terrifying because He isn’t just a concept anymore and He will not allow me to keep Him in the “God” compartment! (The nerve!)
    He is infinitely more real than showy theology and Whoa was I not ready for that. It actually demands that I live a life with Him. Surrendered. In relationship. At all times! (Wait, all times? really!? yeah still not there yet) All that to say, this post really, really resonates with me. I have yet to unpack it all yet, but am really grateful for your vulnerable journey.

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  10. Morgan,

    There’s like, a hundred things going on in this very evocative and provocative blog post. I’d love to comment on all of them but they are so strongly inter-weaved that prying them apart would take me more time to do than it probably took you to write them. Some rambling, disconnected points though:

    I get that the whole Correctness v. Communion makes sense in this post. I see your “And no, this is not a situation where we can just “both/and” the divide in that sanctimoniously moderate move that Methodists often make. The implications of the two theological presuppositions are irreconcilable, since the one promotes a way of thinking that the other proposes to save us from” and I just can’t help but disagree. I’m not a Methodist, so maybe I do it differently, but the people who have taught me most about the beauty of the sweet communion with the Triune God that he has invited us into are those who have also earnestly contended for correctness, both in doctrine and in God himself. All concerns for “correctness” are not parsimonious or “picky”–they just might be holy. (1 Pet. 1:16) God claims holiness for himself and demands it of his people, both for their own good and because his nature, his glory demands/calls forth for that kind of fitting response.Thing is, the beauty of God’s desire for communion is made all that much sweeter when I consider how much God desires correctness and how much I’ve botched that and then consider what God did, what God endured, what mercy God showed in order to bring me into that communion with himself.

    Also, a lot of these calls for “correctness” are precisely in order to preserve the grace, glory, and beauty of a God who mercifully want communion with us by grace. I will argue, polemicize, etc. as will a number of those Romans Roaders with great fierceness for correct doctrine in order that grace remains grace, and God’s goodness remains good. That’s what drives so many of them. Heresy sucks because it is fundamentally ungracious. It robs us of the Gospel. They want the Gospel to go forward; they want ALL to be brought in, the sinful, the blasphemers, the poor, the unjust, the tax collectors, the whores, AND the self-righteous. They want them all to come in by grace and so they engage over doctrine because it matters whether or not you think you’re accepted because of your own goodness or God’s mercy; it matters whether you think Christ is just some guy, or whether he is the Godman who humbled himself to save a humanity he didn’t need but loved anyways. It matters whether you know that you are brought in through your relationship to the covenant head, “in Christ”, so that his accomplishments are yours, and your failures are now his, so you don’t have to live in shame, or fear, but have no room to brag and boast because you’re so dang good, or you figured it out first. Not all concerns for correctness come from a self-righteous desire to justify, but in order to cut off all self-righteousness at the root.

    Let me be blunt: Our sin is a rebellious, offensive declaration of war on the sovereign king of the universe. That provokes a righteous, judicial indignation on God’s part against those creatures that he deeply loves. They deserve wrath. This is all over the place in the scriptures. And note, wrath is not just the impersonal outworking of our own destructive tendencies. That’s not what the text points to, or even the way that the doctrine of analogy is supposed to function in conjunction with describing God’s emotional life. I’m totally on-board for the doctrine of analogy and proper understanding of the way that the Creator/creature gap means we can’t simply think of our emotional life as one-to-one picture of God’s. Still, this is also not an excuse to depersonalize God’s judgments, his covenantally-concerned construals, his personal opposition my sins as evil. At the same time, God is merciful. Understanding that the Cross is where mercy and wrath meet is the only thing that disabuses me of the notion that I’m saved because of my own correctness. It’s the thing that makes cry with joy at the thought of the communion I enjoy with the Triune God.

    Final point about your Baptist pastor–I’m just gonna ask, which Gospel do you think goes over well in a prison ministry? What’s good news for broken sinner? The one who knows he ought to pay? What’s good news for the one who knows he’s got a debt he can’t repay? A judgment he can never bear? You can read testimony after testimony of guys who’s lives get turned around when they understand that “Jesus paid it all, all to him owe, when sin had left a crimson stain, he washed it white as snow” or that “that God, His Son not sparing; Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in; That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing, He bled and died to take away my sin.”

    Like I said, I’m rambling. I gotta go. Keep writing. I love ya man.

    • Hey, can you delete my comment? I wrote this in a rush and I really don’t think I want this up. It’s argumentative in a way that I just, don’t want to engage things. Love ya, Morgan.

      • Dude you’re too self-concious. It’s all good. You love God and have zeal like our brother Paul. I didn’t see anything uncharitable.

    • Derek, let me give you a challenge. How would you as a Calvinist explain why Dave Ramsey’s gospel of self-reliance is so much more popular in your churches than Tim Keller’s Generous Justice? Ramsey’s theology is blatantly Pelagian even though his financial advice is great. The fruit of your people doesn’t reflect their espoused beliefs. How do you explain the heresy that’s occurring? Because one is and perhaps I haven’t put my finger on it so wrote a blog saying why evangelicals by and large are contemptuous of the poor and do not see God’s mercy as something that transfers into their attitudes towards others. Why is self-justification such an epidemic among evangelicals because it is? We have become the Pharisees Jesus came to stop us from being. So what’s your account for this? A short response to your feedback: correctness is important but subordinate to the goal of communion and correctness is not univocal (cf Romans 14 & 15). Love you bro. Keep being God’s chisel, Mr. Whitefield.

      • You know, I think a couple of things:
        1. Cultural accomodation gets everybody. I mean, it’s just a fact. Also, people like keeping their money. I don’t think it’s Romans road theology so much that’s doing it. I think that it’s mostly a shallow, generic Evangelicalism. I mean, Calvin’s Geneva, for all of its flaws, instituted one of the earliest welfare and social help-net systems in Europe after the collapse of medieval Catholic institutions in Protestant lands. They laid the framework for a lot of Modern Europe’s social support net. The diaconate has traditionally been huge for the Reformed tradition. It’s suffered a lot in generalized churches.
        2. Also, yes, correctness is not necessarily univocal. I think you’ll find the Drama of Doctrine to be fun at this point.

        Thanks for the encouragement.

        • So write a blog explaining people who love TULIP and self-reliance equally. Where’s the short-circuit? The only explanation I can come up with for a Calvinist theory paired with Pelagian praxis is that the doctrine is functioning in the same Pelagian way that sacraments did in 16th century Roman Catholicism. By the way I hope it’s clear that my beef isn’t with Calvin or Augustine or even Edwards though I’m not sure about Spurgeon. My beef is with people who say crap like when you get to heaven God sees Jesus instead of you which is such a horrible misreading of 2 Corinthians 5. Imputation is the same thing as incorporation into the body. It is not a cloak but our true identity revealed as we are reconciled to the Word who created us. The cloak analogy is dangerously nihilistic.

          • Well, here’s the thing, I will, but I read blogs about how God’s sovereignty should kill our sense of self-reliance all the time. Actually, I did the other day when I wrote one on Calvin’s thoughts on the Cross and suffering. Like, almost all of them have to do with killing our pride and teaching us reliance on God.

            And, well, I don’t know that I see that about the cloak analogy. Also, I’m not sure it’s just a misreading of 2 Cor 5. I mean, you see logic like that at work in Col 3, and passages like that. (Although, it says there to put on the new self, which is more command than..I dunno). I don’t think that when we get to heaven God sees Jesus. At that time, our Christ-self will be fully revealed and formed, but there is some sense in which now we are “seen” through Christ. In any case, I’m not sure where that whole train of thought came from.

          • The “Christ in me” is the logos template that is my real self. I just need to have worldly lies chiseled away like Michelangelo’s David. That’s why Augustine defines free will the opposite way that modernity does. Concupiscence is slavery; obedience to God is freedom. This may be semantics but it matters to me for evangelistic reasons.

          • Oh, I definitely agree with the Augustinian definition of freedom. As for the Logos template, that’s where I start to wonder…oh well. We get closer every time.

          • So who are the people who have an easy time saying the poor are lazy and college kids who get into $100k of debt should have watched Financial Peace University and they would have known better than to go to college when they couldn’t pay for it up front? I recognize that the Calvinist intelligentsia gets it but the grassroots doesn’t. I’m thinking in particular of a former Facebook friend who loves total depravity and libertarianism with equal fanaticism. My uncle is the same way. There are many of them. They’re not straw men; I don’t know if they’re all Calvinist. Sometimes they come from a charismatic background. But I got on an email list from an apparently pretty well-known pastor who intersperses fairly theologically sound (if Calvinist) devotionals with conspiracy theories about Obama’s ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. How are these people who mock truth created? And then there’s Wayne Grudem telling me I have a secret agenda with Election Day Communion because he can read my mind. That fruit testifies. You’re not at all like that but there are many who are. Why? What is the remedy? Because they’re not just mocking God; they’re creating “nones” and making evangelism harder for those of us who actually want Jesus’ beauty to shine unencumbered to non-believers.

          • I dunno man, it makes as much sense to me as the people who rail on and on about the prophets and God’s heart for the poor and the oppressed and the least of these, but somehow manage to not give a rip about the rights of the unborn, or looking at any kind of call to repentance in the areas of sexuality or heretical idolatry (which the prophets talked about with equal passion). We all have blind spots and grids that need to be upended a bit. As for the remedy, probably prayer, good biblical preaching, and patience that God is even more concerned about these things than we are.

          • Not equal passion. Just saying for the sake of integrity… Which prophets are you talking about? Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Micah, Amos, Hosea don’t talk about sex (except for Hosea using it figuratively). The Deuteronomist cares about it but not so much the actual prophets themselves. Where they go crazy is the mockery of making a big to-do about glorifying God (“Trample my courts no longer with your 50 foot LCD screens, frosted tip skinny jeans sex god pastors, etc if your lack of mishpat and hesed is polluting my land.”)

            You need to read Foucault’s History of Sexuality. I don’t have any disagreement with you that promiscuity is an abomination in our society as well as the thought that we can play God with life He created, but the bourgeoisie gets a lot of mileage out of sexual purity as a self-justification tactic and that needs to be named and accounted for. I just get irritated when people don’t acknowledge the self-justification current that is at play in so much of this.

          • Some points:
            1. I’ve read volume one of Foucalt’s history of sexuality. Makes some good points but…it’s not gonna be my foundation for thinking about sexuality and culture.
            2. I listed sexuality as part of list which included abortion and concluded on heretical idolatry which is what the prophets railed on incessantly. That part is undeniable. In fact, some prophets (Ezekiel, for instance) seem to care more about false worship than social justice issues (not that they should be played off). I mean, I don’t think I have to run through the passages for that do I? Point is, I wasn’t claiming that they talk about sex just as much.
            3. The sexual theme in Hosea (and in the other prophets who use it) is not simply figurative. (Hosea 4) It is mostly one, but think about it, would that very prominent metaphor work if adultery and whoring weren’t obviously contemptible to God? The link between idolatry and sexual perversion is a long one in the biblical narrative. The two mutually-inform and shape each other.

            My earlier point stands: different groups have different blind spots that need some solid preaching.

          • Can you understand how your comments appear to use a rhetorical tactic of canceling out what I said by saying “Well your people do ___ and ___”? Why bring up the “left-wing” sins (even though I’m not really left-wing) if you weren’t trying to do that? Why not just say yeah it sucks when people completely misappropriate my tradition’s theology? Does that make any sense? I just feel like you’re in denial about the millions of straw men who are walking around and who I’ve run into a whole lot. Look at my revisions by the way and tell me what you think of them. Peace.

          • Morgan, I can see that. And yes, to some degree I was probably doing that. But can you not see how in prior comments I’m trying say something like “yeah it sucks when people completely misappropriate my traditions’ theology” but you simply wouldn’t let it go and had to keep pressing for an answer for why the right and the people who are kinda Reformed teach what they teach? I dunno, I bring up the “left-wing sins” thing, not in order to say you’re that way, but let’s be honest, you probably know more people like that and so you probably can see their logic at work easier. Take that and by analogy you have a picture of how it works with the people you’re talking about.

            I’m not in denial that these people exist. I know they exist. It’s a problem. I just don’t think Reformed theology is the root of it.

          • Check out my revised version. I’m trying to evolve past defining things on the Wesley/Calvin axis which is less helpful. It’s hard to get to where I’m not defining myself against the reformed because that’s what Wesleyans naturally do. I think you can have a reformed theology or a Wesleyan theology that respects mystery and paradox. I’m a Calvinist when it comes to my own personal experience because I can’t narrate it as a decision on my part. And I very much care about being “correct” in talking about God but I think I privilege beauty where others privilege logic. So our conversation has been quite helpful to me. I hope it hasn’t been too tiresome for you.

          • Dude, it’s cool. I saw a lot of the revision but I haven’t had time to comment. I think the early paragraph setting up the question of emphasis rather than dichotomy is far more helpful. As for the exegesis of Romans 9-11, that is easily one of the top 2 or 3 difficult passages for me to exegete. I think I will say that there are Calvinistic readings that come to their conclusions precisely out of their respect for mystery. They’ll simultaneously affirm human responsibility and divine sovereign grace, but deny that this somehow reduces to something easily understandable. Again though, I’m still wrestling through the passage so that’s one I don’t really argue with as much.

    • Here’s another thought. Holiness is Galatians 5:22-23. Orthodoxy is the field of possible appropriations of the canon that cultivates these fruits.

    • Another thing: mystery is not just a cop-out that disobedient rebels use to justify their rebellion. Mystery is how we stay in love with God. No mystery = no desire. John 1:5 captures our epistemological state before a light we cannot seize/overcome. The multiple meanings of καταλαμβάνει here capture the problem w the idolatry of “correctness.” That which we can grasp, we have overcome; we’ve been there & done that. If theology is completely perspicuous, there’s no reason to read the Bible more than once because once we know what it’s all about, we’re reading for the sake of duty or self-justification not discipleship. If we completely comprehend what we hear, there is no reason to be drawn deeper into the kingdom (Cf Mark 4’s appropriation of Isaiah 6:9-10). That’s why the gap of mysterion between our knowledge and God’s wisdom is so critical. Modernity hates this gap but reformed theology need not follow modernity.

  11. I’m bookmarking and sharing this one, Morgan. Thank you for this thoughtful and thoroughly biblical approach to this important distinction. This is the issue today – this one right here: correctness or communion. This is masterful – a little bit dense at places, but I’m looking at this as a work in progress and thinking you have begun a very, very important discussion here. Maybe you are continuing Scot’s argument and N.T. Wright’s but you’re using really good terms that are helpful in this ongoing conversation. Just terrific.

  12. As a very imperfect person I appreciate your time & thoughts on this very much and couldn’t agree more with you.

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